Many people have written to me about how meaningful the Chalk Talk experience was for them this weekend at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The folks at Soulforce displayed some photos on their site that I have posted here as well.
The Chalk Talk provides participants an opportunity to engage in a group discourse through writing and drawing. The facilitator (Jallen Rix and me in this case) provides a large blank writing space (white board or sheets of paper), plenty of markers and enough room for people to move around so they can write and see. The activity is conducted in silence.
The idea comes directly from my work as a CFG Coach and my training with the National School Reform Faculty. CFG coaches provide ways for teachers to improve their teaching practice through peer professional development facilitated through the use of various protocols. The Chalk Talk is one such protocol. They have many others–may favorites being the text-based protocols and the Future Protocol.
As a high school teacher at the Watkinson School in Hartford, CT, together with my fellow teachers, we adjusted the protocols for use in the classroom. And since then I have tried them out in other venues. I love the protocols because they embody much of what I value in Quaker practice.
As we gathered in front of that large sheet of paper with the two trails of paper on the ground, we settled into what felt to be a hushed sacred silence. So much pain, so many memories stirred up and appeared on the page. Bit by bit we built this wall, which some said felt like a memorial. Our prompt–Ex-Gay Experiences–The Good/Harm drew out responses including drawings. Many people claimed the good they received from their ex-gay experiences as well as listing the deep deep harm they experienced.
We then debriefed the experienced and began the process of storytelling, of mourning and of healing.
This week I am in River Falls, WI (near Minneapolis, MN) for the Friends General Conference (Quaker) for our annual gathering. All this week I lead a three-hour a day workshop for 21 high school students. The workshop is entitled Looking In–Looking Out, a forum where we explore our own lives and the world around us. We do art, worship, play games, discuss, study the Bible, do drama and of course have snacks.
Today we focused on our faith journeys and did most of our sharing through a Chalk Talk (on a proper chalk board for a nice change). When with Friends I refer to the Chalk Talk as Meeting for Worship with Attention to Graffiti. Our prompts God/Belief/Me. The spirituality of high school students consistently floors and humbles me. Today they wrote so many profound and witty and insightful and heartfelt comments.
One of the young Friends put up a phrase that provoked much discussion:
God is an ugly creature
to test our faith
Some people objected and felt put off by it. Others said they could relate to the sentiment particularly if you have a God who is always testing you and putting you through hard times to prove a point.
The author of the statement finally shared her intent. She said that so many people call themselves Christians. Some are kind people, but some are mean and talk about a mean God. They say all sorts of horrible things about God as they share their faith. She said she sees God as this battered creature who shows up at our door for us to take in and nurse back to health.
This concept moves me deeply, that we can be called to shelter and nurture a battered God, to make room within and a nest of sorts for this God beaten by believers.
So often young people and people in churches and ex-gay programs rarely get to share their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs. It so often is a sit down, shut up and listen sort of affair. What I love about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference (and I desire to do in my workshop this week) is that we sought to create a space for people to speak out and be heard.
This threatens some people who have more to gain from our silence. It is frightening for us who engage in the process because so many thoughts emerge, some which seem to be in conflict. But in this deep communal sharing, we come to a broader truth and understanding. We break away from the polarized debates to the heart of the matter. We get to the people and we get to the things that matter most to God–love, mercy, justice and relationship.